Basic meat soboro, a great bento staple


A soboro is rather like furikake, except that it’s moister. It’s used like furikake in many situations - sprinkled onto rice, folded into other things like eggs, and more. Soboro can be made of ground meat, flaked fish (though fish soboro is often called oboro instead), or egg (egg soboro is often called iri tamago, just to keep you confused!) Meat soboro (niku soboro) keeps for about a week in the refrigerator, and freezes beautifully, making it a great bento johbisai or staple for the omnivore.

This is a fairly universal recipe that you can use for ground meat of any kind - beef, pork, veal, turkey. I would use another formula for chicken, which has a more delicate flavor. (But ground chicken isn’t available here, so I don’t make chicken soboro that often since I have to grind up the meat myself.)

If you use a very lean meat, such as turkey, you may want to add a bit more oil. My preference is to use lean ground beef (in the U.S. about 90% lean).

Meat soboro

  • 450g / 1lb ground beef, pork, veal, turkey or a combination of any
  • 1 to 2 Tbs. sesame oil
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped green onion, green and white parts both (about 2 stalks)
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 piece fresh ginger, finely chopped to yield about 2 Tbs. of chopped ginger
  • 2 Tbs. sugar
  • 2 Tbs. sake
  • 3 Tbs. dark soy sauce
  • 3 to 4 Tbs. oyster sauce

Equipment: a large non-stick frying pan or a wok

Chop up all the vegetables as fine as you can.

Heat up 1 Tbs. of sesame oil in the pan. Add the vegetables and stir fry until softened. Add the meat and brown well.

Add the sugar, and stir around until it’s caramelized a bit.

Add the sake; stir around to evaporate.

Add the soy sauce and oyster sauce. Let simmer until the liquid is almost gone, but the meat is still moist. Taste for seasoning at this point and add a little soy sauce or salt if you think it needs it. (Keep in mind that it’s made to eat with something bland, like rice, so it should be quite strongly flavored.)

Note: if you keep cooking it until the meat is thoroughly dried out, it becomes a meat furikake with longer keeping qualities. I prefer to keep it at the soboro stage though.

About 40 calories per tablespoon

Ways to use soboro

I’ll show soboro in use in future bentos, but here are just some ideas to get you going:

  • The classic - soboro bento, which is a take on soboro don (or soboro donburi) - soboro on top of plain rice. It’s nice to top a soboro bento with some sansho powder. Example here.
  • As an onigiri filling. Make a little clump of cooled soboro for this. If your soboro is too oily, the grease may leak out and make the onigiri fall apart, so you may want to wrap it in nori or keep it wrapped in plastic wrap.
  • Mixed with egg for a soboro-tamagoyaki. Since the soboro is fairly salty, you’ll want to keep the egg mixture low in salt.
  • Stir fried with vegetables. The soboro acts as seasoning as well as protein.

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Looks very useful - similar

Looks very useful - similar to some experiments I’ve been looking at on creating quick, bulk results. I’ll have to try this - I bet it’d also go good on pasta!

Thank you

Just wanted to thank you for adding the Printer Friendly version! I have printed out recipes from your site to recreate :D

I would bet this is great if

I would bet this is great if you add Sambol Olek, or red chilies, or even green ones!


I didn’t add any spicy ingredients to keep the recipe basic, but a lot of variations are possible indeed!

Tried it out

Tried this - didn’t use oyster sauce so upped the soy. Used rum instead of sake. Removed the ginger since I didnt prefer it.

Well it worked great even with modifications! Tried it on rice boiled in broth and it was perfect!

Quick question— since

Quick question— since I’m a vegetarian, do you think this would work with veggie “meat” crumbles? I imagine it would, but what seasonings would you suggest I increase— maybe the soy sauce, sesame oil, and the oyster sauce?

I have some crumbles that need to be used and I think this would make a great addition to my freezer stash, especially since I’ve recently decided to make myself bento lunches whenever possible. Any thoughts/advice you might have would be helpful. Thanks in advance, Maki!

to keep it vegetarian

Lorena, veggie ‘meat’ crumbles should work. You can also use firm tofu that’s crumbled then stirred about in a dry pan to evaporate some of the moisture too. To be on the safe side, omit the oyster sauce - some (the better ones) do have oysters in the sauce. HTH!

Thanks for the quick

Thanks for the quick response, Maki! I actually have a bottle of vegetarian oyster sauce that isn’t too bad, so I’ll probably use that. I’ll let you know how it goes. :)


I made the soboro with reconstituted TVP (2 cups of dried textured vegetable protein) and it tastes great! Of course, since there’s very little fat in it, I used the full 2 tablespoons of sesame oil. Anyway, it is delicious and even my meat-loving husband liked it. Thanks, Maki!

saki substitute

In an earlier comment, rum was substituted for sake. Since I rarely have sake in my house (but other types of liquors and wines), I would like your opinion about a sake substitute. I do have mirin. Also, does sake “keep” once opened? Thank you.

This recipe makes quite a lot...

Maki - I love this recipe! It’s really tasty, and sprinkling it on rice with some egg is one of my favourite bento lunches.

I do need to warn other readers - I made the same quantities last weekend, and it made a lot. A lot for one person who makes one bento a day. I have put 3 portions in the freezer but used the rest in every bento last week and there’s still leftovers! So, if it’s just you on your own, you may want to count on freezing quite a bit or cutting down the quantities.

This week I used it as: filling for onigiri, sprinkled on rice with egg, added to yaki udon, and as the protein for the Korean dish, bibimbap for both my partner and me. Truly a flexible staple!


I just made this recipe and MAN was it delicious! I think I’m going to cut down on the sugar, though. I like savory more than sweet.

tempeh soboro!

i tried this out with tempeh, because i can’t eat most of the meat substitutes out there (usually they’re made with some type of wheat protein).

i was especially excited to try using tempeh because i’ve never been a big fan of it in the first place (it doesn’t absorb flavors as well as i’d like and it has a pretty strong aftertaste) but it’s so healthy that i feel obligated to keep on trying it in different ways. i have to say, this was the best way i’ve ever tasted tempeh prepared! the soboro was so delicious with the iri tamago on top of rice that i never got around to putting it in onigiri, but definitely will try that next time. i did have to use a full 2 tbs. of olive oil when cooking only 8 oz. of tempeh, though, because it’s extremely dry. my roommate tried it and said that it really tasted like meat, so i’ll take her word for it—i haven’t had any since 1992, so i don’t remember what it tastes like! :3


I have been making meat soboro for months now, following your recipe almost exactly, out of various meats, using it plain on rice, inside my onigiri, and dumped into omelettes, without even realizing it had already been invented!

Darn… I thought I had come up with something cool… :P

But on the other hand, this could mean I have good cooking instincts!

It does sound like you have

It does sound like you have good instincts! Good recipes are born from experimentation anyway :)


I made it vegan with a fake ground beef substitute, and it was amazing. It made a great lettuce-wrap filling too.

so good

Thanks, Maki! I made this recipe using ground turkey last weekend, and it came out great. I’m eating it right now, as a matter of fact! I can’t wait to try it with tempeh, as mentioned above.

Made with seitan

I just made this with a baked seitan that was run through a blender to make it like ground meat, about 2 cups. I did end up using both Tbs of seseme oil to be on the safe side and used 2 Tbs of Ginger Juice instead of the ginger (easier for me to keep the ginger juice than the real thing). No saki or any liquor handy, so just used water.

It came out just like the picture above and yielded 1.5 cups + 2 Tbs. Some of it is in the refrigerator and the rest frozen as 1/4 cup portions. This will be an interesting addition to my meals and I can’t wait to add it to a scramble with some Burmese Tofu or use it in some gravy to make biscuits and gravy. I plan on using it the more traditional ways as well.

Serving Size

I’m trying to put this in a recipe converter so I can count my calories. What is a serving size of this?

It really depends on how you

It really depends on how you use it. It’s about 40 cal. per tablespoon, and for instance I used 2 Tbs. in this bento. Y

Re: Basic meat soboro, a great bento staple

I do a variation of this with chicken, I boil the chicken in soy sauce, sake, and chicken broth, and then shred it, and then I also add pecans to add to the flavor<3 I like it much better than the ground beef version.

Re: Basic meat soboro, a great bento staple

This looks delicious but as I'd probably be cooking this just for me, I wouldn't want to waste any of it if I can't eat it all in 3 days. Can I freeze portions of it for, let's say, a week or two at most? I bet I could use a quarter to half of what this recipe yields a week and it'd be great not to have to make it for another few weeks.


Re: Basic meat soboro, a great bento staple

Well I do say 'it freezes beautifully', above, so sure :)

Re: Basic meat soboro, a great bento staple

Shoot, I thought I had thoroughly looked through all the comments and I didn't realize you'd already said that. Well, thanks for indulging my naivete anyway - I made some last night, it was fantastic, and now I have a ton in my freezer and the rest in potato oyaki waiting to be eaten :)

Thanks again! You make Japanese food accessible to any cook.

Re: Basic meat soboro, a great bento staple

I used to make something like this when my kids were small to make dinnertime easier. I'd get ground meat on sale and make up 2 or 3 pounds at a time and freeze it in 1/2 lb. portions to add to pasta, soups or chili for a quick dinner.

But my seasoning was leaning more western; minced yellow onion (or dried if out of fresh), minced garlic, thyme, paprika, oregano or marjoram, and a little Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper. Cooked pretty much the same way, it was a great time saver!

I can't wait to try your version as I love this flavor combo too! Thanks!

Re: Basic meat soboro, a great bento staple

Great bento staple indeed! I make this with ground chicken leg meat. One time I used ground chicken breast because they were out of leg meat and it was not good =( LEG MEAT is delicious.

Re: Basic meat soboro, a great bento staple

Oooo! Leg meat! What a good idea! My oldest daughter can't eat red meat because of tummy problems, but she can eat poultry. I've tried the ground turkey, but it's rather bland and dry. I can get lots of boneless, skinless thigh meat here, I'm going to try grinding it for these kinds of recipes. Thanks for the tip!

Re: Basic meat soboro, a great bento staple

Can I just leave out the sake? Is sake essential to most recipes that call for it or is there a good substitution? I get migraines so I'm leery of trying it as alcohol is a big trigger for me


Re: Basic meat soboro, a great bento staple

You can leave any ingredient out, but there's a reason for the sake - see this page. Keep in mind that most of the alcohol will evaporate during the cooking process.

Re: Basic meat soboro, a great bento staple


Thanks for the link and reply. I went ahead and purchased a small bottle of sake to see if it would be ok.. I also ::head smack:: forgot to buy oyster sauce so I just used an extra tbsn of soy sauce and a tablespoon of hoisin sauce and it turned out awesome. I do have oyster sauce on my shopping list for next time though:)

Cant wait to try another of your recipes. I HEART the sesame beef!!


Re: Basic meat soboro, a great bento staple

Got a quick question, I don't have sesame seed oil can I use regular vegitable oil or will macadamian nut oil work just as good? Also I don't have oyster sauce, do I need it at all? I'm going to be making this tomorrow to start my stash in my freezer.

Re: Basic meat soboro

I have trouble finding protein for my bentos. Lately, it's been a lot of fish. And, way too much chicken. (Chicken has been banned from my house for the next 30 days!) So… the chopped meat/soboro works well as a protein alternative.

Although I'm still working on trying to get an appropriate color balance in my bento, tomorrow lunch will be soboro, egg, and polenta. And maybe asparagus or spinach. The following day’s lunch: cheese ravioli, sautéed mushrooms, soboro, and either spinach or asparagus, which ever I didn’t use the day before. I’ll have plenty of soboro left over; I can easily incorporate it into whatever bento I’m planning.

Re: Basic meat soboro, a great bento staple

I just made soboro for the first time from this recipe, and I used it as a donburi topping. It is by far one of the best things I've ever eaten.

Re: Basic meat soboro, a great bento staple

For someone who's been doing a variation of this for years (and didn't realise this was an actual recipe let alone a 'staple'), I can guarantee this is as yummy as it looks!

faechildmom I've made this in the past with any oil I had (I tend to use extra virgin olive oil or will resort to vegetable oil if I have to) and it comes out fine.

Maki, I know you've said the sake is important, but as I mentioned, I've done a variation of this for years and just used oyster sauce + soy sauce + salt + pepper and sometimes thyme and it still came out yummy.

Can't wait for your cookbook! x

Re: Basic meat soboro, a great bento staple

I found that when I didn't have any sake, that omitting the sugar and using a dry risling wine I got a very similar result that tasted just as good although different in a way. I use fish sauce instead of oyster sauce because I don't eat any shellfish.

Re: Basic meat soboro, a great bento staple

was delicious when I made it.... used 3 tbs soy sauce and 3 tbs sake rather than two of each. Was very good! Fiance seems to like it so it is definitely a repeat recipe do!

Re: Basic meat soboro, a great bento staple

I tried this yesterday and it turned out great!! Thanks so much for the excellent instructions!

Re: Basic meat soboro, a great bento staple

can you eat this cold or warm? thanks

Re: Basic meat soboro, a great bento staple

It can be eaten hot or cold.

Re: Basic meat soboro, a great bento staple

Like someone else who asked regarding the oil, would a different type of oil be fine to use? While I have some sesame oil in the pantry right now, I rarely have it due to the price (about $14 for a small bottle). I almost always have wok oil and light EVOO. would a combination of these be ok or would that alter the taste a lot beyond the recipe as presented?

My son loved this as written. He said it tasted much like the bugolgi he likes

Re: Basic meat soboro, a great bento staple

You could use another oil, but it will change the flavor, since toasted sesame oil does have a distinctive flavor. In other words, it will no longer taste like bulgogi.

And, whoa! $14 for a small bottle is way too much. Kadoya Sesame Oil ( link) is a widely available brand that is not that expensive. You can find cheaper brands in general Asian or Chinese grocery stores, such as Lee Kum Kee.

Re: Basic meat soboro, a great bento staple

Just tried it today and am now muching on my very first home-made onigiri with brown rice and meat saboro with a small cup of warm sake ... this is as good as it gets, so thanks very much again for the great recipe

I have some question about usage.
I kept about half in the fridge and froze the other half.
For the portion I keep in the fridge, do I use it without reheating?
What about the frozen one? Do I just defrost it overnight in the fridge and use as it is?

Re: Basic meat soboro, a great bento staple

One question, will it be okay if I omit the sake? This looks great, and I really want to try making this without the sake or any alcoholic beverages since I don't consume alcohol even for flavoring purposes. And is there and non-alcoholic beverage that can substitute the sake?

Re: Basic meat soboro, a great bento staple

So Yummy! But before i make it i would like to know (in order to calculate how many bentos can come out of this...)

How many servings (how many tablespoons) does the recipe yield?

Re: Basic meat soboro, a great bento staple

It should yield about 2 US cups, or 30 tablespoons, but your results may vary.

Re: Basic meat soboro, a great bento staple

Just made another batch, this time with a bunch of spinach (my favourite 'sneaky' vegetable) and a ton of broccoli. Best broccoli ever! I'm eating it as I type. Thank you for giving me a way to enjoy vegetables!

Re: Basic meat soboro, a great bento staple

What about chicken soboro?
i thought maybe less oyster sauce and mirin instead of sake but i'm confused about portions?
i have to do this for a school project and i'm choosing the least offensive meat to stuff my onigiri with.

Re: Basic meat soboro, a great bento staple

I just made this and it is so good! I omitted the ginger because I don't care for it in meat dishes. This is definitely a keeper. Thank you so much for this recipe!

Re: Basic meat soboro, a great bento staple

I wonder if the word soboro comes from the Portuguese for flavour: sabor.

Re: Basic meat soboro, a great bento staple

I tried this but realized I had none of the proper ingredients. So I substituted.

1 pound ground beef
1/4 cup chopped pepperoni slices
Soul seasoning [because I love ground beef and cinnamon]
garlic powder
and a dash of Italian seasonings.

Came out pretty good! My bf liked it enough to request it twice in the same week.

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